You wouldn’t override a circuit breaker that constantly flips.
The answer to a blaring smoke detector is not removing its batteries.
And disabling the check engine light is only asking for trouble.
So why would Idaho remove the legal warning signal flashing over its plans to reopen schools in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic?
That device is Idaho’s liability law.
Liability laws are how victims get compensated for the bad behavior of others. If you’re injured due to someone’s negligence, you deserve to be made whole.
At the same time, the threat of lawsuits and expensive verdicts discourages stupid, negligent and even reckless behavior.
Idaho officials have good reason to worry about their own liability when it comes to reopening schools.
As Idaho Education News’ Sami Edge reported last week, three-quarters of Idaho’s school children live in what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as “hot spots.” These are areas where more than 5 percent of people tested for corornavirus come back positive.
Under those circumstances, CDC Director Robert Redfield recommends remote and distance learning. But the political leadership of Idaho is determined to reopen schools to in-person instruction.
Doing so, however, would require drastic changes to ensure students engage in the appropriate social distancing.
A good roadmap would be the checklist Idaho Education Association President Layne McInelly compiled:
l Hire more teachers to accommodate smaller class sizes.
l Line up more substitute teachers to replace those who get sick. There’s already a shortage and many of Idaho’s substitutes are retired teachers whose age puts them at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.
l Recruit more bus drivers and obtain more buses to transport a smaller group of students.
l Secure more medical personnel to respond to students and employees who appear to be coming down with the coronavirus.
l Round up more counselors who will be needed to respond to emotionally distressed students.
Of course, that is not how Idaho conducts business.
Not only is it locked in the nation’s basement in terms of the amount of money it allocates on behalf of each student, but Gov. Brad Little has cut the new budget by $99 million.
So Idaho is going to force teachers and students to return to crowded classrooms.
Someone is going to get sick.
It could be a teacher or a school staffer.
It could be a student.
It might be a family member who was infected because his child or her spouse brought the virus home.
When that happens, someone could argue the state negligently contributed to his illness.
Rather than spend the money to protect students and employees — or simply defer to caution and maintain distance learning — lawmakers want to disconnect the warning light.
Under a bill that appears headed toward rapid passage during a special legislative session that Little has slated for later this month, the state and school districts would be immune from a COVID-19 lawsuit.
It’s one thing to extend immunity to so-called good Samaritans — people who in good faith try to help someone in distress but inadvertently cause additional harm. You don’t want to discourage people from bringing assistance.
It’s quite another for politicians to use immunity laws to play favorites. Along those lines would be a bill shielding an electric utility from liability incurred because its equipment touched off catastrophic wildfires.
Idaho’s plan is veering more toward the latter than the former.
Politicians — and ultimately insurance companies who sell liability policies — would benefit.
Left to suffer the consequences would be students, their families and their teachers.
If this is a prerequisite to reopening Idaho’s schools, doesn’t that tell you something? — M.T.